Hard not to think, watching this 39 year-old man who just came out of nowhere to win a contested Senate race by 20 points, that — assuming he continues to be as good a politician as he proved himself to be in the past year and a half — we’re looking at a future president.
Just like attacking an opponent’s religion (as Jack Conway did), cheating during a televised debate is never a good move. Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink “was caught breaking the debate’s ‘no notes’ rule during a commercial break when she read on stage a text message from a senior advisor that a makeup artist delivered to her on a cell phone.” The GOP has pounced with an ad that strikes a properly contemptuous tone:
“Did you see Alex Sink get caught cheating?” one woman asks in the add, adding, “Cheating. Hilarious.”
To make matters worse, she then seems to have made up a story to explain her cheating:
CNN’s John King on Tuesday pointed out that Sink’s suggestion that she thought the text message might have been from her daughter did not hold water. “We listened very closely to the audio, and the makeup artist, when she approached Alex Sink, said I have a message from the staff,” King said. “And at that point they looked, it was on a cell phone, it was two sentences. It was essentially advice after the last segment of the debate telling her if that question comes up again, remember this, and be more aggressive when Rick Scott questions you.”
Oops. Now, in this election, we’ve had candidates lying about their military record (Richard Blumenthal) and their job record (Joe Miller). These incidents may not determine the outcome of these races. Blumenthal is comfortably ahead; Sink was losing steam even before this debate incident. But they do serve as a reminder and a warning to the politician who thinks she or he can flim-flam the public or conceal embarrassing incidents. Getting away with it is not only unrealistic but indicative of an all-too-familiar arrogance we see in politics, an assumption that the public isn’t very bright and that a cleverly delivered excuse can snow the voters. The voters are paying a lot of attention these days; politicians should be forewarned.
I had lunch yesterday with a long-time friend who is intelligent, well informed, and a life-long Democrat. In the course of our conversation I asked for his reaction to what the president said on Univision.
If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.
Given how out of sync the president’s words have been, compared with his high-minded campaign rhetoric, I asked my friend, “Help me to decode Obama.” I wanted to hear his perspective as someone who had invested great hopes in the president.
His response was arresting: “He’s ruthless.” My friend proceeded to tell me that Obama should be understood in the context of the Chicago Way.
This exchange was revealing on several levels. First, my friend’s disenchantment with the president is nearly off the charts. He told me he was as disappointed in Obama as he has ever been in a politician, to the point that on Tuesday he’s going to vote for almost a straight Republican ticket. Many more voters will undergo this same reversal of preferences come Tuesday, which is one reason why it will be a brutal night for the Democrats.
Second, Obama’s rhetoric — using the word “enemy” to describe members of the opposition party — has become nearly unhinged. For Obama there are, it seems, no honest or honorable critics; they are all dishonest, dishonorable, operating in bad faith, and now, apparently, out-and-out enemies. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is more scorching toward Republicans than it is toward Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il.
What Obama said on Univision is simply the latest in a massive and increasingly wearisome smear campaign aimed at Obama’s critics (the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the Tea Party movement, critics of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, the state of Arizona, etc.). As Democrats reach the last stretch of this campaign, invective is almost all they have to offer. And as the magnitude of the impending defeat on Tuesday sinks in, Obama is becoming more brittle, more small-minded, and more mean-spirited.
What makes this stand out all the more, of course, is that Obama is the man whose campaign, at its very core, was the antithesis to these sorts of attacks. During his inaugural address, for example, Obama said this:
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.
These are moving words and, like so much of what Obama said during the campaign, they turned out to be empty ones.
The president is right; the Scriptures do say to put away childish things. They also say by your fruits ye will be known. That is precisely Barack Obama’s problem.
There’s an understatement: “Juan Williams said Friday morning that NPR fired him this week because the radio network had become ‘vindictive’ over his appearances on Fox News.” Exhibit A: “NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Thursday said that Williams should have kept his comments between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’ Schiller later apologized for the comment.” As a recovering labor lawyer, I can tell you that’s a plaintiff’s dream come true.
There’s a signal here: “The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.” So many voters operating with the lizard brain, aren’t there?
There’s another reason to repeal ObamaCare. “Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said Friday that ObamaCare includes work disincentives likely to shrink the amount of labor used in the economy.”
There’s no indication as to how they feel about Juan Williams. “Al-Qaeda Troubled by Helen Thomas’s Firing.”
There’s no indication that Jews agree with the tut-tutters that Israel is too “divisive” a campaign issue. JTA reports: “The National Jewish Democratic Council is running a ‘Day of Action,’ a get out the vote effort, nationwide on Sunday. The Republican Jewish Coalition is chockablock with events in the coming days, including an appearance by former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in Chicago, where a lot of RJC attention has been focused, backing candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for the Senate and Joel Pollak and Bob Dold for the House. The RJC is running TV ads in the Philadelphia area targeting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — not for J Street deviations from dogma, as in the past, but for backing civilian trials for terrorists.”
There’s not a single one predicting the Democrats will hold the House (number of predicted losses are in parenthesis): Larry Sabato (47), RCP (“up to 57″), Charlie Cook (52), Jay Cost (61), and Nate Silver (51).
There’s a headline for Peter Sellers’s fans: “Not Even Clouseau Could Make Panthers Disappear.” Quin Hillyer cites the Washington Post front-page story from yesterday and explains, “[Eric] Holder’s stonewalling can’t work. The truth will out. The truth appears to involve a pattern of race-based enforcement decisions at DOJ. Such a policy is unlawful. Period.” Actually, “Exclamation point!”
There’s no hotter Republican than Chris Christie. “He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. ‘If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union. … But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.’”
There’s a lot of hype in the reporting on the WikiLeaks documents, says Tom Joscelyn. But, he explains, the documents do confirm “that Iran was, and remains, a principal sponsor of Shia extremist groups in Iraq. These same groups helped bring Iraq to the brink of chaos — along with al-Qaeda, which was also happy to fuel the sectarian violence. … They killed far more civilians than the American-led coalition ever did.”
There’s probably been a more counterproductive ad than Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. But I just can’t think of one.
I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”
If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.
Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”
If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!
Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: ”There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”
Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.
It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.
The second AJC poll of the year has some interesting results:
Some 49 percent of U.S. Jews approve, while 45 percent disapprove, of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to a just-completed American Jewish Committee survey, its second national survey of American Jewish opinion conducted this year … AJC’s earlier survey, conducted in March, found that 55 percent approved and 37 percent disapproved.
In contrast, … 62 percent of American Jews approve, and 27 percent disapprove [of Bibi's handling of U.S.-Israel relations], according to the new survey. In March, 57 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved.
A bare majority of American Jews (51 percent) approve of Obama’s overall performance, still higher than the nation as a whole, but not nearly the level of support (78 percent) he enjoyed on Election Day or for a good stretch of his term. American Jews’ specific views on Israel and Iran explain, in part, why they have become disenchanted with Obama:
American Jewish confidence in Obama’s approach to Iran has dropped with 43 percent approving of the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue compared to 47 percent in March. Some 46 disapprove, up from 42 percent. Some 59 percent support and 35 percent oppose U.S. military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Some 70 percent support and some 26 oppose Israeli military action. …
Like the March results, the new survey found that 48 percent favor, and 45 percent oppose, establishment of a Palestinian state.
Regarding the future of West Bank settlements, 6 percent say “all,” 56 percent say “some,” and 37 percent say “none” should be dismantled as part of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.
A majority of American Jews, 60 percent, continue to support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 35 percent say Israel should compromise on the city’s status in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
American Jews remain nearly unanimous, at 95 percent, in supporting a proposal requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement.
These findings, in conjunction with the recent poll of all Americans that I discussed here, here and here, point to several important developments. In answer to the question of whether anything can wean Jews of their “sick addiction” to the Democratic Party, the answer seems to be “Obama.” At this rate, his level of support among Jews will roughly match the general population’s, an unheard of phenomenon for the past 75 years.
In addition, there is no significant market among American Jews for what Soros Street is selling; the front group’s disappearance on the national stage will not be missed. (Except perhaps by Richard Goldstone.)
And finally, “charm” or a “charm offensive” is no match for substance. Obama has changed his outward demeanor toward Bibi and lowered the anti-Israel rhetoric, but his policies haven’t changed. Jews and the rest of Americans increasingly are tuning out what he says and scrutinizing what he does. That spells trouble for a politician who has gotten all the way to the White House on words alone.
The New Jersey 12th is a traditionally Democratic district. Only in a wave election would the GOP contender have a shot, but this is such a year. If Democratic old-guarders like Rep. John Dingell are at risk, no seat is safe. And, in fact, RealClearPolitics currently lists the seat as just “leans Democratic.”
The Democratic incumbent is Rush Holt, a seven-termer who’s been on the defensive over his record on Israel. The Republican Scott Sipprelle, a venture-capital investor who’s never run for political office before, is campaigning as a full-throated fiscal conservative. But he made it clear that his differences with the administration and his opponent aren’t limited to domestic policy. I asked what he thought of the president’s approach to Iran. He replied: “The administration has succeeded neither in isolating Iran, slowing its nuclear ambitions, nor deflating its dangerous rhetoric. So I conclude that their approach has been a failure. Iran must understand that if it continues on this reckless path, the consequences will be unambiguously painful in terms of crippling economic sanctions and ‘effective isolation’ that will threaten the regime’s survival. America’s leadership is at stake on this issue.” And if Israel is forced to act unilaterally to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “The U.S. should stand with Israel,” he answers matter-of-factly.
Sipprelle didn’t mince words when it came to his opponent, who was a signatory on the Gaza 54 letter. “The enthusiastic endorsement of Mr. Holt by J Street and his apparent desire to cling to their warm embrace and their money will be a factor that voters consider when casting their ballots in November.” But he added that his opponent’s questionable funders extend beyond the Soros Street crowd, saying that voters should also consider “Mr. Holt’s unwillingness to repudiate Charlie Rangel [or to] return his large campaign donations to Mr. Holt’s campaign.”
Sipprelle is a businessman, not a politician, who sees an opening for outsiders not immersed in Beltway squabbling. While he aggressively criticizes Obama’s policies (“We should start over [on ObamaCare],” he argues), he plainly is appealing to independent and Democratic voters who, he contends, are turned off by hyperpartisanship. At a recent fundraiser in his state, Obama asserted that a GOP-controlled House would bring on “hand to hand combat.” Sipprelle observes: “We need problem-solving in America, not rigid partisanship. I have criticized Mr. Holt for his blind party politics, voting with Nancy Pelosi 99 percent of the time, making him just a cog in the partisan machine that is tearing the country apart. He is not exercising wisdom, principle, or good judgment. And he is not putting his country first.”
In an ordinary year, the New Jersey 12th district would not be in play. But in this extraordinary election year, Holt not only has a rotten economic record to defend but the baggage of an increasingly unpopular president and a toxic J Street. We’ll see in a few weeks if, even in one of the Bluest states, that’s too big a handicap in 2010.
ObamaCare is making life miserable for many Democrats on the 2010 ballot. But that is nothing compared to the fits it will cause Mitt Romney, should he, as is widely expected, run for president in 2012. This report explains:
“I guarantee that, at the top of everyone’s list on how to differentiate your guy from Mitt Romney, the top of the list is health care — until and unless he takes the opportunity to say, ‘We tried, and it didn’t work. The individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare and Romneycare was wrong,’” said Bill Pascoe, a Republican strategist who wrote a post on his blog earlier this year titled “Say Goodbye to Mitt.”
So far, anyway, Romney is showing no signs of backing down. His message is the same today as it was in March, when there was still hope that voters would warm up to the Obama legislation once it passed. Romney blasts the federal law as a takeover of health care, while defending the 2005 Massachusetts version. He argues the two are as different as night and day, despite their common and most reviled feature, the mandate on individuals to purchase insurance.
I don’t think that’s going to fly; nor do I think simply “apologizing” for what he considers his signature achievement (as many Republicans are urging him to) will carry the day. Since 2008, Romney seems to have settled into his own skin, showing expertise on economic issues and a solid grasp of foreign policy. He’s less defensive and more at ease with a focus on pro-growth policies. However, a reversal on health-care reform will simply revive the concerns about flip-flopping and sincerity that weighed him down in 2008. On this one, I agree with Brent Bozell’s take: “I don’t know of any other potential candidate who has as big of a potential single-issue problem as this one.”
Well, some say, John McCain overcame the concerns from the base regarding his stance on immigration and managed to win the nomination in 2008. Yes, but “Repeal immigration reform!” was not the party’s clarion call.
If ObamaCare is repealed or is effectively neutralized before the 2012 primary season heats up, might that help Romney’s predicament? Perhaps, but as that debate rages, Romney will be queried as to where he stands and why he presumably favors the repeal of ObamaCare but not of RomneyCare.
Perhaps there is a more compelling distinction Romney can make between the president’s plan and his own. But sometimes there is no “solution” to a politician’s dilemma. Indeed, the upcoming tsunami that will wipe out many Democrats will testify to the proposition that officials can’t run from their records. If they are fundamentally out of sync with voters on a key issue, there’s no amount of clever packaging that will help them.
In his weekly radio address, President Obama devoted a few perfunctory words to his economic plans — and then spent the next eight paragraphs excoriating the Republican party.
The following day, the New York Times published a front-page story, which reported that:
Democratic candidates across the country are opening a fierce offensive of negative advertisements against Republicans, using lawsuits, tax filings, reports from the Better Business Bureau and even divorce proceedings to try to discredit their opponents and save their Congressional majority. Opposition research and attack advertising are used in almost every election, but these biting ads are coming far earlier than ever before, according to party strategists. … As they struggle to break through with economic messages, many Democrats are deploying the fruits of a yearlong investigation into the business and personal histories of Republican candidates in an effort to plant doubts about them and avoid having races become a national referendum on the performance of President Obama and his party.
And to think I still recall the words of an idealistic young man running for president in 2008, from his acceptance speech: “The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook.” Barack Obama went on to speak about
the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.
I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.
Yet Obama himself has become what he preached against: a deeply divisive and partisan politician — a man who, because he does not have a record to run on, is painting his opponents as individuals voters should run from. He is employing the stalest of tactics in the crudest way possible.
What makes all of this particularly damaging for Obama is that the core of his appeal as a candidate was not his governing philosophy or his record of achievement; it was the mood he created. According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Obama “believed it was possible to rise above the distortions and j’accuses that has turned politics into the sort of unedifying blood sport from which so many Americans recoiled.” Obama believed he would “somehow transcend the horror show.” And sure enough, in his February 10, 2007 announcement speech, Obama placed aesthetics above policy specifics. What’s stopped us from meeting our challenges, Obama said
is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.
These words now sound as if they were uttered by a different man in a different time with an entirely different set of values. As president, Mr. Obama has accelerated the worst tendencies in modern politics. Yet he maintains an almost self-hypnotic belief that he is what he once claimed to be. Facts and reality don’t matter; the image cannot be allowed to die.
There is something at once poignant and alarming in watching the president continue to engage in this play acting, unable to free himself from his own self-delusion.
Like Michael Phelps, who breaks a record nearly every time he dives into the pool, Obama sets records almost every day. Sunday was no different. He has a new high mark for disapproval at Realclearpolitics.com, at 51.2 percent, and a new low, at 44.5 percent. And a new record spread, at 6.7 points.
To carry out the sports analogy, he now acts like an aging athlete with only memories of past glories to keep his spirits up. The Washington Post observes that “without Obama on the ballot this year, his grass-roots network is a shadow of its former self. And with just five weeks before the midterm elections, Obama’s political advisers acknowledge that transferring the goodwill he cultivated over a historic presidential bid to an array of other Democrats has proved difficult.” Umm, it’s also proved difficult for him to retain that goodwill. Ah, well, they’ll always have Iowa.
Meanwhile, he is playing in minor league venues:
President Obama will swoop into the heartland this week in a high-stakes bid to boost enthusiasm for Democrats by reigniting the coalition of young and minority voters who were critical to his success two years ago. … So on Tuesday in Madison, Obama will stage the first in a series of rallies on college campuses designed to persuade what some call his “surge” voters — the roughly 15 million Americans who voted for the first time in 2008 – to return to the polls this fall.
Five weeks to the election and he is still working on getting minority voters and college kids to turn out for him!? I can tell you, college kids are not going to turn out en masse for a midterm election. The Obama girls, the rock videos — where have they all gone? The Post trips down memory lane:
The students on this leafy, generally liberal campus once constituted one of the strongest battalions in Obama’s grass-roots army. Two years later, the political dynamic has changed. Across campus, stickers, signs or chalkings for any politician are scarce. The laundromat where Obama’s young volunteers once staged late-night phone banks and planned bus trips to neighboring Iowa has gone out of business. And some students who say they voted for Obama in 2008 now say they don’t even know who’s on the ballot this fall.
Now the kids are all about football and grades:
On Saturday, student organizers waved signs outside Camp Randall Stadium as thousands of fans filed out of the football game. The Badgers won in a rout, and the young Democrats tried to break through the excitement of the game with perhaps a more exciting announcement: “President Obama on campus Tuesday!”
Some fans gave thumbs up or yelled “Go, Obama!” Others responded disapprovingly, as in “How’s that hope and change working out for you?” Hundreds more walked past in their red-and-white gear without paying any attention.
One student, showing her flair for the art of understatement, intones that “the euphoria has dimmed down.” Well, that’s one way of putting it.
I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book yet (apparently, it hasn’t been released yet), so I will reserve final judgment until I do. But based on the excerpts published so far in the New York Times and Washington Post, I am less exercised than some colleagues about what it reveals.
The book’s most explosive revelation is said to be a quote from Obama: “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever … we absorbed it and we are stronger.” This is a gaffe in the Michael Kinsley sense, defined as what happens when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. Would it have been better if Obama said we couldn’t survive a terrorist attack? Probably it would have been preferable if he had said nothing at all, because his nonchalant way of talking seems to slight the pain incurred by 9/11 casualties and their families. Moreover, his comment might be interpreted as though he didn’t care much about terrorism. I doubt that’s true or fair, and, in fact, there is a case to be made for advertising our ability not only to defend against, but also to absorb terrorist attacks, based on the theory that this may deter potential attacks.
Most of the other excerpts concern infighting among Obama’s aides over Afghanistan policy (this is a surprise?) and Obama’s desire to create an exit strategy — also, not exactly news. “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling his aides. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”
On the contrary, I believe the plan in Afghanistan needs to be about how to achieve victory — not about how to leave early. Obama’s emphasis on an eventual pullout, which led him to announce a timeline for withdrawal, is, I believe, deeply misguided and actually makes it harder for us to leave by making it harder for Afghans to trust us.
But I judge a president more by his actions than by his words. For all of Obama’s talk about an exit strategy, the fact remains that he has consistently stiffed those in his administration who favored a precipitous pullout. Now all the signals emanating from the administration suggest that the vaunted December policy review won’t amount to much and that we are unlikely to see a major drawdown next summer. Obama may talk exit strategies but his actions support General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy.
The most interesting news in the Woodward excerpts concerns the CIA’s private army – 3,000-strong Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. It is common knowledge that the CIA has been running black ops in Afghanistan but Woodward sheds light on the strength of its forces and suggests that they have penetrated into Pakistan as well — apparently only for intelligence gathering and not actual fighting, though who knows?
On one level, this is encouraging news, which shows how our presence in Afghanistan can be a strategic asset to deal with terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. On the other hand, this raises all sorts of troubling questions about what the teams’ impact is on our overall counterinsurgency strategy. The CIA has a tendency to strike deals with warlords who produce gunmen. Problem is, these warlords tend to be deeply corrupt, often complicit in the drug trade, and their conduct undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government and drives ordinary people into the arms of the Taliban.
I don’t doubt that that CIA’s paramilitaries are effective and well-paid, but their existence also serves to siphon away top-tier fighters from the Afghan Security Forces. Their operations are probably not well integrated with US military operations, either, since the CIA doesn’t report to the military chain of command. The CIA’s resort to its own paramilitaries may still be useful but it made a lot more sense back in the early days of the war, when there were few American forces in the country, than it does today when there are 100,000 U.S. troops (and 40,000 allies) in Afghanistan.
Reading the Palin tea leaves is about to become a daily obsession. Each visit and speech elicits a new round of speculation. She went to Iowa — she’s running! But she “spent little of her time with them. She did not appear at a rally, impromptu campaign stop or closed-door one-on-one meetings with party activists” — she’s not running! She’s making inroads with activists. (“‘She sure has a way of rallying the troops by pointing out that we need to get back to our roots, get out there and fight,’ said one.”) Nah, she’s not that electrifying. (“She did not carry the crowd with her through the entire 33-minute speech. When she talked about the beauty of the Tea Party movement, the party activists in the room barely responded.”) She’s hungry to run. (She says, “I want to get back to Iowa soon.”) Or, she’s decided she doesn’t need to. (“I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title.”)
It is both in her interest and the media’s to keep the suspense going. If she runs, the buildup and anticipation is invaluable; if she doesn’t, it still keeps her “brand” hot. The media loves a “How will it turn out?” story, and the left punditocracy is fixated on her. It is in no one’s interest to resolve the question quickly.
And her tea leaves are harder to read than most. If a traditional candidate is going to run, he’s going to do traditional things — meet with those activists, assemble a professional staff, and put together an Iowa or New Hampshire ground game (or revive ones from 2008). But Palin isn’t that sort of politician. It’s not clear she will, until the last possible moment (and maybe not even then), play the nitty-gritty insiders’ game. She, after all has 100 percent name identification and can command free media to an extent no other figure can. This doesn’t mean she can win with such an approach. But we’ve never seen a phenomenon like Palin. Maybe you can win the presidency without the rubber-chicken circuit and without organizing every straw poll in sight. We’ll find out. Or maybe not.
Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:
“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”
The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:
The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.
If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.
This perfectly sums up Charlie Crist:
When asked [on CNN's State of the Union] if Florida voters have a right to know which side he’d choose, Crist dodged the question. “I think they know the way I’m going to go, I’m going to go the way that is best for them,” Crist said. “[...] I don’t have to say I’m going to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans.”
He didn’t really dodge it, then. He said, no, the voters don’t get to know which side he’d choose. It is hard to tell which is his defining characteristic — contempt for the voters or an utter lack of principle. As to the latter, here’s a Crist classic: “Crist reaffirmed that he would have voted against the bill, but stopped short of calling for its repeal — something he called for in March and something Rubio has consistently called for since launching his campaign.”
Nor does he have any views, not that he’ll tell us, on Sarah Palin:
In 2008, Crist told CNN’s “American Morning” that he thought then-vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin “would do a great job” if she had to run the country. Crist’s present thoughts on the matter were markedly different.
“Doesn’t really matter,” he said when asked if he felt the same way about Palin today.
“I’m not going to issue a statement on Sarah,” Crist added.
Even Arlen Specter was not this bad — at least he told you what his current views were. It would be hard to find a better example of what voters detest these days. Is there a yen in Florida for a squirrelly politician whose sole principle is “whatever is good for me”? I think it unlikely.
She certainly has them on the run. At the National Mall rally on Saturday, Sarah Palin delivered an eloquent and moving tribute to servicemen and a nonpartisan call to restore — not transform — America. The complete text should be read in full. (If you are not moved to tears by the stories of three heroic military men, you have a heart of stone.)
I admit that I had some serious reservations about the Glenn Beck rally. To put it mildly, I’m no fan of Beck’s, and his rhetoric has given liberals plenty of fodder to paint the right as extreme and incendiary. But both he and certainly Palin conducted themselves well — sticking to general themes of faith and service. That the media could not find a single controversial statement is a tribute to the good judgment and restraint that was exercised.
Meanwhile, Palin clearly has the left in a tizzy. They have finally gotten it: she is redefining feminism. In the New York Times, two liberal feminists exhibit more than a little anxiety over the Palin juggernaut. To put it bluntly, they have Palin envy:
In the 24 months since her appearance onstage in Dayton, Ohio, Ms. Palin has enthralled pundits and journalists who devote countless television hours and column inches to her every Twitter message and Facebook update, while provoking outrage and exasperation from the left. …
The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.
You betcha. You see, Palin has proved by example that a woman politician need not spout the pro-big government, pro-abortion, pro-welfare-state line. “Ms. Palin has spent much of 2010 burnishing her political bona fides and extending her influence by way of the Mama Grizzlies, a gang of Sarah- approved, maverick-y female politicians looking to ‘take back’ America with ‘common-sense’ solutions.” She sure did, and she proved herself to be the most effective female politician in the country. Sorry, Hillary — while you have been playing errand girl for the Obama foreign-policy train wreck, Palin has ascended to the throne. (Nancy Pelosi’s days are numbered.) The left is waving the white flag of surrender:
It’s easy of course, for liberals to laugh off Ms. Palin’s “you go, girl!” ethos and increasingly aggressive co-optation of feminist symbols. We progressives discount her references to the women’s movement — not to mention her validity as a candidate — by looking down on her as a dim, opportunistic, mean-girl prom queen, all spunk and no policy muscle. …
If Sarah Palin and her acolytes successfully redefine what it means to be a groundbreaking political woman, it will be because progressives let it happen — and in doing so, ensured that when it comes to making history, there will be no one but Mama Grizzlies to do the job.
And it’s really worse than the New York Times worriers admit. Palin not only trumped the left on style but she also managed to connect on nearly every issue — ObamaCare, bailouts, Israel, taxes, American exceptionalism, and the stimulus plan — in a way the president and his liberal supporters could not. For all of her supposed lack of “policy muscle,” it was she who defined the debate on ObamaCare and she who synced up with the Tea Party’s small-government, personal-responsibility, anti-tax-hike message. Who’s short on policy muscle — the White House or Palin? Does “engagement” of despots, Israel-bashing, and capitulation to Russia make for a meaty foreign-policy agenda? Go read a Palin foreign-policy address or two. Plenty of meat and common sense there.
But I give the Times gals credit — they know they are losing the battle to discredit Palin. Now they need to figure out what to do about it. They might start with examining whether their agenda has as much sell as hers.
You have to give the Washington Post credit — their editors certainly offer a contrast on their op-ed pages. Today, needless to say, you have a Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. The difference is stark, and revealing.
From Gerson you have a measured analysis, which takes into account the series of events that have transformed Obama from a cult-like figure into a struggling and rather radioactive one. He writes:
The most destructive gap for President Obama is not the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot or even a job disapproval that has surpassed approval — it is the gap between aspiration and reality.
The Manhattan mosque controversy showed the problem in compressed form. First came the Obama of high-toned principle (largely the right principle, in my view). Then a politically motivated recalibration. Then a scrambling staff explanation. Then an embarrassed silence, since it is difficult to clarify the clarification of a clarification. Then the president’s regretful assertion of “no regrets.”
I don’t agree with Gerson’s position on the mosque, but his rendition of the fact is exact and his list of other examples is overwhelmingly persuasive. He explains, “From the firing of Shirley Sherrod to the obsession with Fox News to lashing out at the ‘professional left,’ the Obama administration engages in a daily hypocrisy.” And then he provides still more examples to support his conclusion:
Politicians have been known to say one thing and do another. And high ideals and high rhetoric always create the potential for hypocrisy. But the disappointment with Obama is especially acute. He won office by providing new voters with intoxicating hopes. America was tipsy with idealism — resulting in a particularly difficult hangover. … All politicians fall — but not from such a height.
Then there is Eugene Robinson, who understandably must be at his wit’s end, as the politician in whom he and so many others on the left invested so much effort and so much of their own credibility to promote is now stumbling. His thesis is as bizarre as it is unsupported: “President Obama Is on a Winning Streak,” is the title of his column. Bet you’re confused, since he’s at an all-time low in the polls, his party faces an electoral wipe-out, his predictions of a summer of recovery have proven to be ludicrous, his party is so desperate as to promise to “improve” his “historic” health-care legislation, and he’s incurred the wrath of both supporters and critics of the Ground Zero mosque.
So what is Robinson’s argument based on (other than wishful thinking)? Well, there is Obama’s success in Iraq. Bet you thought that was George W. Bush’s (over the objections of Robinson and Obama), but now all praise is due to Obama because he said he’d bring the troops home. “When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge,” is how Robinson evades the historical record. That would be the surge, which led to an American victory and permitted Obama to bring home troops “on the heels” of a remarkable accomplishment. And he seems unaware of or chooses to ignore criticism from the right that the departure timetable is too abrupt and puts at risk the gains we have made. (“Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be ‘just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in.’”) One half-truth, built on an evasion, topped off by a misrepresentation.
OK, what else does Robinson have? The GM bailout: “The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.” Yes, but we haven’t gotten our money back. And in typical Keynesian fashion, he forgets that all the money spent on GM wasn’t used someplace else in the economy, perhaps to create more jobs in industries with a brighter future. But I will concede that it turned out better than many expected.
Then there is the BP oil spill. Robinson treats in this way the Democrats’ anger over the administration’s misrepresentation of the extent of the clean-up: “The administration’s claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of — by nature or by human intervention — before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. … But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?” And who could have imagined that he would have given a widely panned Oval Office speech, sent his poll numbers skidding, advertised the limits of overarching liberal government, and caught flack for not going to the Gulf on his first vacation? (He had to do a day of make-up later in the summer). Listen, I don’t think there’s a Democrat on the ballot willing to tout the BP oil spill as an Obama “win.”
And then, the cherry on the top of his frothy column is the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Big win for Obama. He must be joking, right? Nope.”Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.” And reversed himself within twenty-four hours. And incurred the ire of the left. And is giving his own party fits. Well, all that was left out.
What is missing in Robinson’s take — the economy, the poll news, the complete Mosque debacle — makes Gerson’s point. The gap between aspirations and results is now so wide that the only way to bridge it is to fudge the facts and leave out much of what has transpired over the last year. Robinson and Gerson come from opposing political perspectives. But the most noticeable difference is the degree to which they attend to the facts and are able to draw therefrom persuasive conclusions. In that department, there is no comparison.
It was supposed to save them from electoral ruin. It was “historic.” It was going to be the final opportunity to address the issue. It was ObamaCare and now the Democrats, on the brink of an electoral wipe-out, are begging the electorate not to throw them out because they rammed it through. Their pitch? We’ll change ObamaCare. Yes, it has come to this.
Ben Smith reports:
Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health-care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and deficit, and instead stressing a promise to “improve it.”
The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. … [The presentation] suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. Instead, the presentation is designed to win over a skeptical public, and to defend the legislation — and in particular the individual mandate — from a push for repeal.
The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House’s first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed.
So now the contest is between the one party, which jammed ObamaCare through despite the public’s wishes, but now is experiencing an election-eve conversion, and the other, which opposed it all along and is promising to repeal it. If the bill is as bad as everyone now concedes it is and it won’t do what was promised (what the Democrats promised), what exactly is the rationale for re-electing the Democrats, who can no longer make a credible argument that it is a good bill, let alone an historic one?
It does give hope, however, that “repeal and reform,” the Republican mantra on ObamaCare, might have bipartisan support after the November election. Or, in the words of the politician derided for being dense but who’s far more in sync with the public than the president on just about every issue (e.g., ObamaCare, Israel, the war against Islamic jihadists, the Ground Zero mosque, the failed stimulus), maybe we can all agree to refudiate Obama.
Really??!! Another presidential comment on this sensitive matter made on the fly in response to a press question? The political and substantive damage will continue until Obama explains his position in detail and (in a dignified and uplifting way) explains why his critics are wrong. This is a classic case of a politician losing control of his public image on a key issue — only in this instance, it has implications for the whole world.
Politics is an inherently messy profession; even the best practitioners of it slip up from time to time. But the depth of ineptitude on this issue that we’re seeing from the president and his White House, as well as the speaker of the House, is jaw-dropping. It is as if they were consciously thinking of ways to keep this story alive, to stoke the embers, and to further upset the public.
In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.
Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More